Born in 1954, Chan Kong-Sang (meaning born in Hong Kong), Jackie was the only son of Charles and Lee-lee Chan, who were very poor and worked for the French ambassador to Hong Kong. Charles was a cook and a handyman, while Lee-Lee worked as a housekeeper. Jackie's parents had no money to pay for the surgery bills and had to borrow from friends and relatives, refusing the offer from the lady doctor who delivered him to 'adopt' him.

At 7, Jackie's parents moved to Australia to work. Being a naturally energetic boy, Jackie was enrolled in Yu Jim Yuen's Training Academy to study Peking Opera. It was a grueling process, where they had to wake up at five in the morning and turned in late at night.

Jackie is far left, squatting
They spent most of their time learning acrobatics, martial arts , acting and putting on face make-up and minimal time on formal lessons. Jackie had said life in the Peking Opera School was tough, where one can easily get beaten up by Master Yu if one did not train hard enough or were naughty. Separate interviews with Yuen Biao, Sammo Hung and Mars (though not from the same school) also echoed that Peking Opera Training is extremely tough. Together with Sammo And Biao, the three were part of the Famous Seven Little Fortunes troupe. Jackie was to spend 10 years at the Opera School some sort like an apprentice learning an elusive skill, one which will put him in good stead for his superstar future.

With the decline of Peking Opera, Jackie entered the film industry in 1971 to work as an extra or stuntman.

Jackie had his neck snapped by Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon.
Jackie's reputation as a daring stuntman made him well known in the circle. From '71 to '78, the main highlights were easily the 2 Bruce Lee movies - Fist of Fury and Enter the Dragon (left) - where Jackie played a stuntman and extra respectively. The bulk of this period was spent doing extras and being groomed by Lo Wei as the next Bruce Lee after the little dragon's untimely death in '73. This period was one of frustration as one movie after the other flopped - New Fist of Fury, Killer Meteors, To Kill With Intrigue, just to name a few. Tired of Jackie, Lo Wei loaned him to Seasonal Films for a 2 picture deal. Ng See Yuen's, famous for his 6th sense in movie making, decided cast Jackie as the lead in Snake in the Eagle's Shadow, despite movie distributors advising him against. Having no idea that they are making a movie that will not only launch a future superstar but also one of the most fondly remembered HK movies of all time, Ng, Jackie and director Yuen Woo-Ping stayed back late after office hours every day to discuss how to make the movie more unique and special. The kungfu comedy genre was born. The rest is history. Drunken Master followed next with greater box-office success. After the Seasonal Films venture, due to contract obligations, Jackie went back to Lo Wei and directed Fearless Hyena (1979), a box-office hit as well. Jackie broke his contract and left for the greener pastures of Golden Harvest, but Lo used his Triad connections and started having thugs sent to the set to threaten Jackie. With the help of 'One-Arm-Swordsman' Jimmy Wang Yu, the Triad affairs were taken care of and Jackie remained with Golden Harvest.

At GH, Jackie delivered his first hit for the company with the Young Master. To propel Jackie beyond Asia, GH then sent Jackie to the States to do a Hollywood movie - The Big Brawl - which unfortunately flopped everywhere, be it Asia or America, as Jackie did not have much say in fight choreography and editing. Ego bruised, Jackie returned from the States an angry man. Without careful planning and a complete script, Jackie rushed to shoot a semi sequel to the Young Master - Young Master in Love. More haste makes less speed. Dragon Lord, as it was finally titled, took several months to shoot and chalked up huge production costs, a lot of which were due to careless planning. Dragon Lord subsequently drew lackluster box-office. Realizing his box-office draw was returning to the 'good old days', Jackie told Golden Harvest that he needed their full support for his next ambitious project, a period movie about battling pirates. Golden Harvest greenlighted the project, and Peking Opera buddies Yuen Biao and Sammo Hung were roped in to be the Jackie's costars. The end movie, titled Project A, not only successfully launched the New Wave action/fighting, but also sported a solid soundtrack, a first for a Jackie Chan movie then. Most importantly, it made tonnes of money at the box-office.

Jackie Chan in Police Story
The rest of the 80s was regarded as the heyday of Hong Kong fighting movies, with Jackie and Sammo clearly leading the pack. Jackie's 2nd Hollywood outing in 1985's The Protector also ended in failure, and Jackie decided to concentrate on the Asian market. HK made hits like Wheels On Meals, Police Story I & II, Armour of God, Project A II and Dragons Forever etc established Jackie's 'kungfu superstar' reputation and made 'Cheng Long' (rather than Jackie Chan) a household name in Asia, just as famous and familiar as Bruce's 'Li Xiao Long'. A generation of people grew up watching his 70s (even the Lo Wei ones) and 80s hits. To them, 'Cheng Long' is already big enough to qualify as an international superstar, Hollywood or no Hollywood, though i suspect that the man himself doesn't feel otherwise, and understandably so. (In soccer terms, no matter how famous a player is in the local (HK) or even international (Asia) scene, he can never consider himself to be in the Hall of Fame yet until he had made his mark at the World Cup (Hollywood). )

In 1990, Jackie began the decade with no movie. 1991's Armour of God II - Operation Condor, went seriously over-budget and took a whopping 2 years to make. Looking back now, Operation Condor is the finest example of a HK movie going global while retaining Jackie's unique flavour. But realising that Jackie's self-directed projects are getting less and less profitable, GH decided to hire 'cheaper and quicker' directors to direct Jackie instead. A slight change became of Jackie's movies, and henceforth, Jackie Chan movies were never the same as before. Change isn't always bad, and a change is might as well to increase Jackie's screen time. Movies like Twin Dragons, Police Story III , City Hunter and Crime Story each had their unique moments. If anything, they only served to widen the variety in Jackie's portfolio. Audience got a chance to witness again Jackie's 80s fighting magic in 1994's Drunken Master II. Creative differences with DM2's original director Lau Kar Leung led Jackie to redirect certain fight scenes, including the famous ending fight with Ken Lo. As of now, DM2 is the last movie where the fights are really exciting, in every sense of the word.

In the mid and late 90s, Jackie reckoned instead of going America (again) to make Hollywood movies where he had no control, why not modify his HK movies to make them seem like Hollywood movies? This certainly seems to be the answer as he went to great lengths to court the global white market. A drastic change became of his HK movies: a predominantly Caucasian cast, English dialogue, foreign locations (outside Asia), large-scale set pieces and vehicular stunts, and abolishing of end fights. The fans who grew up watching his 80s hits were disappointed with Rumble in the Bronx, and again with the following year's First Strike, and again with the following year's Mr Nice Guy and again and again…In their respective years of release, these pseudo Hollywood movies drew amazing box-office, and probably the box-office success misled Jackie into thinking that this is the right move. These movies were important though, because their predominantly English dialogue and their near global distribution helped Jackie gained more international fans. Keeping his Asian fans satisfied remained a priority, though no longer the main one. Having found official global stardom, Jackie is detemined not to lose his hard earned international fans. Looking back at these movies now, they were merely the 'flavours-of-the-month' hits, which one forget after leaving the cinema. (or even if do remember something, it is usually bad, like Jackie's poor English) Whilst the early 90s movies still retain semblance of Jackie's style, mixed with the director's own vision, these pseudo Hollywood movies could have easily starred anyone, if without those one-per-movie-fight-scene that is.

Jackie's eagerness to be recognized by Hollywood is fulfilled, when Rumble in the Bronx went on top of the US box-office for a week. Earlier movies like Operation Condor, Supercop, Drunken Master 2, First Strike were taken by New Line Cinema, dubbed, edited (more appropriately, butchered) and inserted with new soundtrack, and released to mainstream American audience. None of these modified versions ever made it to the top of the US box-office. The US posters for these movies are a joke, reflecting the US distributor's sloppy treatment of Jackie's HK movies.

The US posters. In the actual movies, Jackie did not wear black at all! Those 2 ladies on the poster for Operation Condor did not exist in the movie.
The original posters. Note the great difference with the US version. The US ones look more polished. But i still prefer the original.

The end result? With the butchered versions, US mainstream audience are still not fully attracted (and understandably so) to the Asian icon. And the man himself, misled by the local box-office success and the general impression of Western takeup of his earlier works, continued to churn out movies like Who Am I, disappointing his Asian fans even further. Rush Hour was Jackie's real Hollywood comeback movie. It was a smash hit in the US, collecting US$130 million. It then seemed that Jackie finally had his American dream come true. Critics claimed Rush Hour's success is due more to Chris Tucker than Jackie Chan. It certainly seemed this might be true when Shanghai Noon came out and bowed out with a mere US$50 million. With the exception of Rush Hour 2 (again with Chris Tucker), The Tuxedo and Shanghai Knights enjoyed respectable, but unspectacular box-office success, confirming views that Jackie had not really made it to the Hollywood big league.

Maybe I am being sensitive, but it seems that Jackie Chan is more of a Hollywood star than an Asian one today. On the surface, it may be what he himself wanted. Magazines like 'Screen Power', DVDs like 'Hong Kong Legends' are all Western (U.K.) products and targeted at Western consumers. Famous and reputable Jackie Chan sites on the Internet are all administered by Caucasians. Does still have Chinese fans who can match his Caucasian fans in support and enthusiasm. Has the Asian/Chinese audience forsaken him or taking him for granted?

With the man pushing 50, will the remaining years be spent further courting Hollywood or returning to his roots to make that one last great movie to round up his career? Continue speaking lousy English or revert to mother tongue Cantonese? Continue courting his dream or fulfilling our dreams? At the time of writing, Jackie is filming Around the World in 80 Days and The Medallion is about to hit the cinemas in a few months time. Rush Hour 3 is reportedly in the works.


(an Asian perspective)

Disclaimer | 2003 - Ng Kwong Loong

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